For the record, I am in no way stating to know about players’ psychology during matches when writing this article. I however do think it’s something different for you to read and think about, so let’s begin.
As a Liverpool fan, the 2018 Champions League final is one I would absolutely love to forget. The match ended 3-1 as Real Madrid won what was a historic third consecutive title, and their fourth in five years. It also saw arguably the greatest goal in the competition’s history as Gareth Bale struck a simply beautiful bicycle kick to restore Los Blancos’ lead.
But this piece is not about the result of the game. I could have predicted that weeks ago. What I want to analyse is the injury of Liverpool star man Mohamed Salah.
Salah and Real defender Sergio Ramos both fought for the ball, with the latter coming out on top and taking the “Egyptian King” down with him. It is yet to be confirmed whether Salah will be fit enough to play in the World Cup for Egypt.
Before the injury – which happened around a third of the way into the game – the deadlock had yet to be broken and Liverpool were arguably the better side. After the injury, Liverpool’s period of dominance was over and Madrid subsequently went on to lift their third consecutive Champions League trophy. It’s worth mentioning that Liverpool too tend to start games on the front foot so naturally their best play was going to be at the start of the match, but the drop in quality and belief amongst the Liverpool players was startling.
Adam Lallana was the man who replaced Salah, swapping wings with Sadio Mane – brilliant on the night scoring Liverpool’s only goal. This is no direspect to Lallana, but he is no Mo Salah ability wise, especially considering he’s endured an injury plagued season compared with Salah’s record breaking season of dreams. Naturally, the team wouldn’t be as strong after this substitution, although Mane really came into his own in his favoured position.
But, the fact remains that as soon as Mo Salah went off Real Madrid became the better side, and this is down to psychology as much as the abilities of individual players. You could hear the worry of the Liverpool fans in the stadium as Salah walked off in tears. It was the moment I lost the belief that Liverpool might be able to win.
This season Salah has been Liverpool’s talisman. The records speak for themselves. Even in a bad game, the players and fans believe something magic may happen when the Egyptian receives the ball. And they are within their rights to, Salah has scored an amazing late goal against Spurs this season and turned the game around against Leicester with two second half goals. As brilliant as his companions Mane and Roberto Firmino are up front, Mo is the main man. Losing that man, losing that belief, arguably cost Liverpool their chance in the final.
Loris Karius made two shambolic goalkeeping errors which quite literally threw the game away. No one will truly know how Karius was feeling that night and why he made such a basic error in throwing the ball straight at Madrid striker Karim Benzema for the first goal. His second error was arguably worse, but his confidence will have been absolutely shot after the first error and getting beaten by a wonderful bicycle kick. Did he make his initial error because of the psychological blow of losing Mo Salah? It’s worth thinking about.
And of course let’s not forget the psychological boost Real Madrid will have felt with Liverpool’s team being weakened. They surely will have prepared for that game marking him as the danger man, so to have that threat leave the pitch will have pumped confidence and belief into their players. The pattern of the game shows this. Real controlled the game from then on.
Moving away from the Champions League final, you only have to look at the effect of Lionel Messi on his national side Argentina. Admittedly these were both friendly game results which are never brilliant indicators for a side’s true form but, cast your mind back a few months and you may remember Spain thumping Argentina 6-0. Messi did not feature in this match, instead watching on in horror from the stands. Very recently Argentina beat Haiti 4-0. This is not at all a surprising result, nor was the fact Messi bagged himself a hat-trick and set up team mate Sergio Aguero. He had a direct hand in every single goal they scored.
Look at the World Cup in Brazil four years ago. He dragged that side to a final, with a stunning late goal against Iran along the way. Individually Argentina have a set of world class players – a roster any British football fan would love to have represent their country. But without their main man Leo, they look a far different side. And for the worse.
If you can think of any more examples of this please let me know in the comments.
I’m not claiming to be an expert in psychology or football analysis but I believe the effect a team’s talisman has psychologically on his side’s players, is very interesting indeed. It’s a factor often left unconsidered when evaluating a match.
Do you agree with Hayden? Do you think all hope for the Reds was lost when Salah came off injured? Please let us know your thoughts below or simply tweet us with the hashtag #AOF.